The Dead End Ends
In the early 1970’s there was an influx of hippies in north India, seeking to “find themselves.” The leaders of this world-wide self-seeking pilgrimage were the Beatles, who came to India to find themselves, but instead, they delved into meditation, yoga, and classical Indian instruments. Their pilgrimage was the evolution of a far-east hippy- culture, an era that Yip and I had participated in and knew first-hand.
In 1976 Yip and I were newly married, running a “Hippy House” on the very top of a mountain, the highest point in Landour, Mussoorie, a small town in the Indian Himalayan foothills. The town is precariously perched on the edges of sheer cliff. Whenever we met travellers, we invited them to stay with us, and during that time we hosted two young men.
Tony, on drugs, thought he was a butterfly and jumped off a roof in Nepal. He broke both ankles and came to recover with us. David, an Australian, was convinced that slitting his wrist was his only option. He also stayed with us after his surgery. They were quite the pair. At Christmas time, as we sang carols, we caught them giggling away together. We asked, “What is so funny?” David replied between gasps and giggles, “We thought ‘Hark’ was the name of the ‘Harold’ angel.”
David initially set off to explore the world and “find himself.” Although he was ready for adventure, the last place he expected to find answers was India, He decided not to follow the usual mob traveller mentality. He said his “good-byes” and headed for Bali, leaving in February, 1976. Now, 44 years later, we finally caught up with David. I asked him to share his story, which is a shortened version of a very captivating journey.
As a teen I was dissatisfied with life. I was not a particularly good student and struggled just relating to people. Family life included violence and sexual abuse. I was as much a perpetrator as a victim. Later for a brief time, drugs became my escape. I did have one outstanding skill: I was a good runner, and gained many accolades through competition.
Travel was interesting, and a welcome escape from the life I had been living. My confidence was growing and I enjoyed the company of those I met along the way. As I talked with people, I began to think of how I might leave my mark on the world. In Bangkok I met a fellow helping refugees. His cause seemed noble, though I had some doubts about his methods.
The North Western regions of Thailand had been a rest and relaxation location for American troops during the Vietnam war. All fighting forces had been withdrawn in the past six months leaving seemingly endless streets of vacant, gaudily painted nightclub buildings, and a collapsed local economy. It was an eye opener to see the reality of the effects of war that is well known, but not talked about.
Upon arrival in Nong Khai I met a Buddhist monk, who, like so many others, worked tirelessly assisting refugees who flooded into the area. He told me, “You can have anything you want in life but for everything you take, there is something you must give up.” He then gave me a medallion, saying, “Keep it close to you and keep it hidden. It will protect you in times of danger.”
The words still echo loud and clear in my head! Was this the way to the freedom that I so longed for?
After a few days I travelled west, then up to the hill region in the north, but my thoughts were still with the monk and the medallion. Impulsively, I returned to Nong Khai, leaving my belongings in storage to travel light. My intention was to speak to the Monk, and then shore up my plans. When I arrived, the “Maha,” the great one, was not there.
I had not counted on this, but proceeded with my plans. I went to the refugee camp, and was greeted by camp detainees. But impatience got the better of me. I returned to town and mulled over my plans, returning to camp as dusk fell. By then, the atmosphere had changed completely. Instead of the previous warm welcome there was a defined darkness, a sense of anger and agitation in the people. Was I an American deserter? A Russian spy? Before I knew what was happening, I was in custody for breaking curfew.
Determined not to be defeated, I was sure these people would understand my good will gestures, and convinced myself this was just a test of my intentions. However, their intentions of putting me in jail was not in my plans. When the opportunity came, I broke free of my captors and employed my one sure skill – I ran! My adrenaline was fuelled by the shouting and confusion behind me, the wind rushing in my ears, and then, the crack of a rifle. Shots whistled around my ears, and I aspired to do what I excelled at: I ran faster!
Five hours later, still free, I jumped at every shadow, dodging from one hiding spot to another as I desperately tried to silence the barking neighbourhood dogs. In all this I stayed alert enough to find my way through this unfamiliar town. Car headlights turned into the street ahead, and my heart leapt. I knew they were looking for me!
I resigned myself to surrender. (Even then I expected them to understand my good will.) Instead, I was loaded face-down into the back of the truck. I realised my expectations were not going to be met.
Again, I broke away and ran like a wild-man, but failed, and was caught. It crossed my mind to try a third escape, but by this time I was cut and bruised and getting tired of the game. The police were not happy with me, and unwilling to take any more chances. I decided to wait until daylight for any further attempts.
I shared my cell with about 70 others, whose offenses ranged from petty theft to mass murder. It was a small space with no running water and a squalid toilet area. The stifling tropical climate, now approaching its peak, brought infection to my wounds. Within a short time, my movements were restricted. My running skill would be hampered.
An American, Catholic priest came to my rescue after a week. He put up bail—with conditions attached by the police. I was cynical of the priest’s motives, but pleased to accept freedom.
I still wanted to get back to the Monk. Reflecting on my previous encounter with him, I decided his medallion was not something I wanted or needed. If I was going to achieve anything in life, it had to be on my own merit, so I made another visit to the temple to inform him of my decision that I intended to go back home.
The Monk stood, and turning away, pulled his saffron robe firmly around his waist.
“You shall return Home.”
It was said with a horrendous air of finality—in his actions and words. A terrible feeling of dread washed over me. I knew I had failed.
Things unravelled quickly. I became reckless in my actions and stretched the boundaries of my bail conditions so far that bail was revoked. Placed in custody, my case was heard in court, and I was sentenced to serve time at the provincial jail on the edge of town.
I was released at the end of the one-month term. I had plans and went to the police station to collect my belongings, including passport and cash. I was immediately put in custody again outfor overstaying my visa! Back to the holding cell, I realized I was losing control of my destiny. An officer took me aside, quietly explaining it would likely take a few weeks before I could be transported to Bangkok, where I would be put on a plane and be able to fly out of the country. However, if I cared to pay my own airfare, the return costs of an escort, and any incurred costs to make the officer’s trip comfortable, then it might be possible to leave tomorrow. I hated the feeling of being used for a bribe, as well as consuming a large portion of my resources and destroying my plans to assist refugees. I felt morally obliged to stick to my commitment to the refugees. I tried to rationalize; I came to a quick decision.
“I’ve had enough! I’ll go tomorrow!”
I was flabbergasted. In Bangkok there was no plane waiting for me. I would have to wait for it in the Immigration Detention Centre. It was another soul-destroying place. Different than the Thai prison, it was overcrowded with individuals from the four corners of the earth. Some had been locked up for years, given up hope, and remained in utter despair. Each day included endless shouting matches, violent fights and continual expressions of aggression.
At one point there was an open discussion to stage a mass break out. I was losing heart. If only I could undo the past and make different decisions!
When release came, I was granted a seat on the plane to Calcutta, again with the cost of a considerable bribe attached. I just wanted out, and I got out, but the feeling of dread and failure plagued me every waking minute. The teeming millions in Calcutta overwhelmed me. Where on earth could I find peace to just think through my situation?
That evening I fell into a deep sleep, only to wake several hours later gripped by fear and loathing. By daybreak my mind was in turmoil. I had never given any serious consideration to taking my own life, but that is what sprang to mind as my only option. The more I tried to dismiss such thoughts, the more they pressed in, and within half an hour my intentions were locked in. I went into my room, locked the doors, and slashed my wrist.
A wave of blue washed over me. I was convinced this was death. But I was fooled again. Death was supposed to end all pain and suffering, but here I was in another world with no escape! As I lay on my bed waiting for something to happen, I decided to test the state I was in. I unlocked the door, walked out through the lobby and out the door.
Soaked in blood, I wandered down the street. People stared in horror, parting as I came nearer. Somehow, someone took me to the hospital. I lay on the gurney, seemingly for hours, alone. I felt it was time to get help, so I left with the intention of going to the embassy, only to discover there was no embassy in Calcutta.
Given the state I was in, it is beyond me how I managed to buy a plane ticket to Delhi, and, brought a young lad along with me. (It’s still a blur in my memory and will remain a mystery.) Arriving late at night, I had a small satchel, my passport and a small amount of money. Feeling guilty about the lad I’d brought from Calcutta, I gave him all I had left, including my passport, telling him to sell it to raise the fare for his return trip. Torn, I rationalized what I’d done, and the life I’d now fallen into. I also contemplated getting to the embassy for help.
But how on earth could I go home like this and explain it to my family?
Again, I landed in a hospital. After a week or so I was at the embassy, where the staff seemed remarkably calm and understanding. Bill Kelly was the officer who took charge of my case. (Bill had seen it all before!) My heart sank when he explained I would be taken to a Christian household called Dilaram, where I could rest up for a few days while he sorted things for me. I wanted nothing more to do with any religion! I think he sensed my agitation and tried to reassure me. I did not have to get involved in any of their activities if I did not want to. And it would only be a few days.
The days turned into weeks and I was again growing restless. Occasionally I engaged in a discussion with these Christians, thinking I could convince them I knew exactly what I was doing and did not need their religion. Their refusal to argue back was infuriating. I longed to justify myself but nobody gave me half a chance to do so. I wanted Out. I decided to go back to Calcutta, collect what I had left at the hotel. Then I’d return to Delhi for my new passport and continue to the UK. With few dollars to spare, hitch hiking seemed to be the best option.
With a small map, I set off, walking to the outskirts of Delhi. After four hours I began to lose heart again. I had not been offered a single ride and returned to the city train station. A train was scheduled to leave for Calcutta within the hour, but as I slowly moved forward in the queue, and the departure time nearing, something inside me said I would not get on this train tonight. Indeed, when it was my turn to be served, the hatch door came down. The train was fully booked. I wanted to argue, but was dismissed with a cock of the head, and told, “Thursday is the next train.”
Every possible emotion welled up within me. “Surely not! Even now I cannot escape this drama!”
As I turned to leave, I came face to face with David Kitley, one of the leaders from Dilaram House. I am sure that he was as surprised to see me as I him. I explained to him what had just happened. David told me that he and others were headed to Mussoorie, in the Himalayan foothills for a few days, for a short break from Delhi’s heat. One person had dropped out. Would I like to come along?
What were my options? Sure, I was trying to get away from these people, but why not just accept the offer, see a few things I had never seen before, and then get back on my way.
We travelled all night. I woke covered with coal dust from head to foot, including in my mouth and on my teeth. Sitting by an open window behind a hissing engine gives one a different perspective to the romance of steam travel!
Landour, at the top of Mussoorie, was great, but I was very cynical towards the people around me. “How can these so-called Christians reside in such luxury and leave the people they have come to serve in heat and poverty? What hopes do they have for such a lavish lifestyle?”
It just did not seem to make sense. But at the same time a nagging thought began to niggle away at me. “What if the things I am hearing are true? What if God really does lead them and guide them? Enough! Never again!” I figured I just had to wait to get to Calcutta and things would be okay.
Dave Kitley mentioned if I was interested, there was an orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital who might be able to do something about my hand, now lame as a result of mutilating my wrist. I was interested!
Dr Virgin was a Christian doctor from Canada who had returned to visit the work he retired from some 10 years previous. He’d worked with leprosy patients, restoring the use of their hands and other faculties, damaged as a result of the disease. I was struck by his reassuringly calm attitude, as though he encountered my situation many times before. Before I really understood what was happening, I was admitted for surgery. The hospital ensured that I would be there for three weeks of rest. I yearned to get back on the road.
My presence at the hospital became known within the Christian population, and I received a number of visitors. Pearl Bowdish was the antithesis of my image of a missionary. She took me on as “her project,” and I felt trapped. Nevertheless, I began to look forwards to her visits, which included her freshly baked scones and cream. She also brought a small New Testament. “Just read John!” she said.
I had trouble reading a single paragraph in the newspaper, surely, she did not expect me to read all this tiny print and old-fashioned language! (King James was common text at the time.) I tried. I was afraid she might stop coming if I rejected her suggestion, but then I realized that Mark was a much shorter book, and the language seemed a little easier. Anyway, weren’t they the same story? Read one and you’ve read them all? Still, it didn’t make much sense to me.
At the end of three weeks, I was looking forwards to being discharged and getting back on the road to freedom. Imagine my disappointment when I was told that I could be discharged, but Dr. Virgin required me to come to the clinic each week to monitor my progress. I thought, “Surely, I can manage that for myself?” But no, an accommodation had been arranged with a young couple in the community who would give me room and board. Reluctantly, I agreed, but it felt too coincidental. Had I fallen into another trap? Was someone going ahead, laying a path for me to follow?
I have only vague memories of the early days staying with Yip (Ken) and Frieda in the cottage on the peak of the range, but some things are memorable. The beauty of the surroundings as I sat looking down on the village below, or walking the hilltop paths and breathing virgin air. I looked at snow-capped peaks. I watched as eagles soared and wheeled majestically from the valley floor into the clear skies above.
Yip and Frieda always seemed to be busy—going places, doing things, meeting people. I had expected they’d sit me down and give me a good talking to, which would give me the opportunity to explain myself and justify myself. But that opportunity never came. Occasionally I had a discussion of sorts, but I always initiated it, and any objections I raised seemed to melt away with the simple, plain answers I was given. I could not challenge what I was presented with, and in time, all I had left was questions. What was this all about and how on earth it had all come to this? I was broken, lost, and hopelessly out of touch with the world around me. For the first time I dared to think, “What if this were all true? What if there really is a genuine hope for the future?”
This was scary! I had put in such an effort to escape religion and here I was slipping back into it! It felt like too much to embark on another search for the truth. I wanted out. Thoughts plagued me day after day, to the point of feeling ground down. “If only I could just go home, sort things out, and even become a Christian when I get there. I could get on with life.”
Just after my 25th birthday, I lay back on my bed mulling things over, and the penny dropped. If I was going home and considering becoming a Christian there, I can in fact make that decision now. I knew the stories of Jesus from my Catholic upbringing, and now picked up on the fact that His love and forgiveness was not something to be earned. I didn’t understand much more, but I was aware I did not deserve anything. I was just lucky to have survived. The fact that I was even alive was a privilege far beyond my own expectations.
I began to re-plan my life, spending several hours thinking through the situations I would encounter. Clarity descended. I decided in doing this there would be no turning back. No changing plans. Wherever this takes me, that is where I will go.
I slept soundly that night. In the morning I announced my decision to Yip and Frieda. I recall Frieda being very pleased for me and expressed her joy, but Yip was over the moon, almost jumping out of his skin. My immediate thought was he was making too big a deal about it and he should calm down a bit. They both had an incredible testimony of God’s hand in their lives, and knew I had just embarked on a journey that I would never regret.
I was soon involved with families on the mountainside. I attended Bible study groups and Church life. I soaked up everything possible and, nearly soaked my wrist-plaster when Yip and Frieda took me on an adventure hike. We crossed rivers with strong currents. They laughed as they watched me lose my footing and drift downstream holding my plaster above my head.
I spent my days walking up and down the hills. I was falling in love with this magnificent place, but knew the end was coming. Now I did not want to leave. Snow would soon envelope the whole of the district and most of the residents would vacate to the plains. I had to say good-bye to these wonderful people who had made me so welcome.
In Delhi, the Dilaram House welcomed me back into their community. I planned to move on, but the ministry there was extraordinary. I continued to learn so much. I stayed there a further 2 years, during which time I had some wonderful experiences and exceptional adventures. I went places I would never have dreamt of, doing things I considered were out of my league, and most of all, I was learning and growing in the Lord. Even with all this nurturing, I found the hardest thing to grasp was the fact that there is absolutely nothing I can do to earn the love of God.
It was Frieda who first planted the idea of attending Bible College into my mind, and it was a wonderful time of learning, but there was one lingering question. “How on earth did I not hear about this earlier? Why did I have to go through all this just to find out the truth?” And harder to confront, “Why had I worked so hard to deny and avoid allowing God in my life? What was I afraid of?”
College is where I met my wife, Susan. We married the following year. (Susan soon learned that I had absolutely nothing to my name in terms of worldly possessions!) My father assisted me to get established in the workforce, and after a few years and a couple of children, I took the opportunity to do my degree. I worked in construction for the remainder of my working life.
Since Landour, my faith has been the backbone of my whole of my life and I am so thankful for the new beginning granted me. I struggle daily with the Western lifestyle. The waste, excess, and complaints about what people don’t have. There is only one true Gospel, one true life. “Jesus died for my sin, was buried, then arose on the third day. Therefore, turn from your ways and follow Him.” After hitting rock bottom, I know that grace only starts at this point. It’s in his hands. There is no other way.
I still love to run, although now success is measured by making it to the finish line, rather than dodging the law. I have enjoyed my involvement in lots of different activities, but the one thing that possesses me and drives me forward, is the opportunity to know Him and share that knowledge with others. With any other attitude, to me, this life is meaningless.
This is eternal life, that they should know you,
the only true God, and Him whom You sent, Jesus Christ. (John 17:3)
Meet David: David.email@example.com
Song For David
by Frieda and Anoushka Kumar
Trapped in this dark shadow, no light to show the way,
My heart was an anchor. Then You came.
Far far away from my loving Father,
I had been wandering wayward wild
Fearing only lest his anger
Overtake his sinful child
Overtake his sinful child.
Vein had I fed on the husks around me
Til’ to myself I came and said,
Plenty have my father servants
Perish I for want of bread.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved me
Oh, that a wretch like me was once lost
And how I was found I cannot say
And then, He came.
Trapped in this dark shadow, no light to show the way.
My heart was an anchor. Then You came.